Living

Planting My Flag: How A Neighbor’s Banner Woke up the Activist in Me

When I first saw the cardboard cut out, while I was walking through my development, I thought it was a joke. A skinny Trump giving a cheesy thumbs-up stuck to the inside of one of the window panels of someone’s front door. This couldn’t be serious. In fact, I laughed every time I walked by it. Trump had hit the gym, ditched some of the orange spray tan and was greeting the neighborhood. I even waved back.

Say cheese.

 

But when I passed by two weeks later and saw the Trump flag, I knew: this is serious. I was with my family and I thought, Don’t say anything, Don’t point it out. But of course I did. I could barely contain myself, even though they had to have seen it. “Look at that,” I said, practically spitting, “can you believe it?” The flag was enormous – bigger than any of the ubiquitous American flags around here. How had the HOA allowed this?

 

Then again, I was more shocked that they had allowed a rainbow flag and lawn signs that say Love is Love. It seemed out of keeping with the general ethos of the people in this development, many Republicans, many religiously conservative.  

 

My husband and I were so happy to see the rainbows of love that we sent the people who had them outside their house a thank you note and a little gift of rainbow magic markers.

a beacon

 


My first reaction to the Trump flag was not to go out and order flowers for its owners. The law about mistreating an American flag prohibits any action that “mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag.” I wanted to do it all of it to this one. I wanted to spray paint Dump Trump on the garage. I envisioned replacing the little American flags that festooned the front yard with Russian ones. I didn’t do any of this. But I wasn’t sleeping well – my anger was consuming me.


I toned down my fantasies. Maybe just a chalked message, 8645. People here might not even know what it means. But I would: 86 means cancel or eliminate and 45 is the number we’re up to in the presidency. 
One friend suggested putting a nasty bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car. Others said I should complain to the HOA. But I’m the one who annoys them with emails suggesting we use fewer and less toxic chemicals on the lawn. And even if they did listen, that would be the end of the rainbow and would mean going back to bland suburban conformity.

What could I do to calm myself down while being true to how I feel?


I started by donating to what I call my “pinko” organizations: ACLU, Planned Parenthood, The National Domestic Workers Alliance. Then I sent money to candidates: not just Joe Biden, but Amy McGrath against Moscow Mitch McConnell, Sara Gideon against Susan Collins, Jaime Harrison against Lindsey Graham. I researched and set up donation posts online for defense funds for protestors and POC and queer organizations. I signed up to make phone calls and followed through, learning about local politics. I got people out to vote for the Democratic school board candidates despite the fact that I don’t have a kid in the school system. And when the incumbent candidate was accused of vote tampering, I was proud that I helped get out votes for his opponent- who won, by the way. It’s a powerful thing to get engaged in something bigger than oneself.


I once told a therapist that I wanted to get rid of the anger that I have carried in me for most of my life. She told me that anger can be very a galvanizing force if you use it for good.


A chalk message on a sidewalk will be gone with the first rain and even spray paint can be covered over. But the changes we make in our leadership will have lasting effects. For me, voting isn’t enough. I needed to stop just putting up clever memes on Facebook and to get engaged. The very thing that infuriated me was the one that inspired me. It took me to where I needed to go.


Any time my enthusiasm – pardon the pun – flags, I visit the site of my initial outrage and I think, Ahhh yes there are postcards to go out. When can I fit in time for some calls? Which representative can I contact? I am actually grateful for the presence of that flag in my life. After all, it woke me up. I might send a thank you note to those neighbors after all.

 

Organizations for Volunteering or Donating:

ACLU @ http://www.aclu.org or contact your local chapter

National Domestic Workers Alliance @ http://www.domesticworkers.org

NAACP Legal Defense Fun @wwwnaacpldf.org

Fair Fight for Voters Rights at http://www.fairfight.com

ActBlue @ http://www.actblue..com

Human Rights Camapign for LGBTQ rights @www.hrc.org

Vote Forward @ http://www.votefwd.org

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